Co-founder of Lingo Live

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WorkBoard at Lingo Live

Mike Giordani, Co-Founder

WorkBoard Scope:
Company Wide

Key impacts:
Results accelerator and more productive meetings.

Customer since:

We sat down with Mike Giordani, Co-founder of Lingo Live, to talk about how they’re using OKRs and some of their victories on the path to becoming a stronger, more resilient team. Mike talks about how OKRs drive asynchronous communication and alignment for the global team at Lingo Live.

WorkBoard: What drew you to OKRs and WorkBoard?

Mike Giordani, Co-founder of Lingo Live: Well, first of all, I’m a huge OKR fanatic! At our retreat a few years ago, we had this open conversation about what’s working and what’s not working. And in this conversation, we had our engineering team talk about what that they were doing. And then we had our customer success talk about what they were doing — which was in the complete opposite direction of the engineering team! They conflicted with each other, and it was then that we had the epiphany that, as a team, we were not aligned at all — it was a wake-up call for us. We left that retreat wondering how even though we are a small company, we could be working against each other. So that was the catalyst for us to start thinking about how to bring people together, how to think about our strategy, and how to get organized and work better together.

That sounds like a transformational experience. 

It was! It was a deeply troubling yet cathartic moment that we all experienced together. And so, even before we had OKRs and WorkBoard, there was a shared realization that we needed something — because our misalignment was showing up day-to-day as unspoken tension. That tension builds up, and, as it does, walls start to build between teams that should be collaborating together. And those walls became visible as the core of all of the interpersonal conflicts that we had been dealing with over time — and that’s when I championed OKRs and Workboard.

A few quarters prior, we tried to run OKRs on our own. We had people with varying degrees of experience, including a tech leader who joined us from Google who was fairly proficient in OKRs — but most of the team had never fully experienced them. The first time we ran the process, it took us nearly a month to have goals in place. And while the process was clarifying, it was also somewhat demoralizing because it was Q4, and we just got our goals in place.

So I wondered, does this really work, and why are we so bad at it? I started to dig into OKRs, researching and learning from what other organizations were doing — just trying to soak up everything I could about OKRs. And that’s when I discovered WorkBoard’s certification program and signed up, which was incredibly helpful because it gave me a foundation to learn the methodology, how to apply it — both the theoretical and the practical — and learn from other people in the group. And then it became clear that the tool that we were using was not the best tool.

We were using 7Geese. I think one big thing that WorkBoard is all about is that it’s not an HR platform that helps you manage your strategy energy. And that resonated because 7Geese gave us a lot in terms of individual performance management — we had these 360 reviews and all that kind of stuff going on — but it didn’t give us the full functionality of focusing on how the company was performing, how our teams were performing, where the gaps were, what do we want to celebrate, and what’s holding us back. It felt very, very limited on that front.

And some of what they were preaching almost went against what I see as the core principles that WorkBoard is founded on, which are much more time-tested ideas behind OKRs. And so when I started to see sort of that conflict, I thought that the easiest way to apply the methodology was going to be with a tool that actually is an extension of it. Being able to separate the HR individual performance piece altogether and divorce it from OKR performance has been very helpful for us as well. And, on top of that, to really leverage teams versus individuals in the process.

Ultimately, WorkBoard has changed more than just how I lead, it has also changed the way that people lead themselves.

How did the implementation go?

We went full out, full speed, zero to a hundred as quickly as we could. In retrospect, we probably could have taken a more phased approach, but we had such a sense of urgency. I think we were less consensus-driven and more prescriptive that this is what we’re doing. It helped that OKRs weren’t completely new, that we had run a few quarters in our own way. But as a leadership team, it was an instance of: this is what we’re doing, and this is how we’re running the process, and then tightening that up and rolling it out.

There was some resistance, which is to be expected when introducing a whole new tool. People want to know what’s expected of them and what new habits will be put in place. But along the way, everyone benefited from the new visibility on a different level, especially as a remote-first company. WorkBoard really helped us empower our whole team all-around.

Your teams are fully distributed now, of course. Have they always been?

We started as a traditional, face-to-face company, and slowly over the past few years became much more remote-first. And now everyone is remote-first. We’re looking to move away from having any sort of physical location, especially post COVID-19. And WorkBoard has really helped us on our journey to reset how we work as opposed to just trying to plug and play the traditional office playbook into a virtual environment — and a big part of that help has been asynchronous communication. Three years ago, new hires would share feedback that the company was very meeting heavy. There was a feeling of not having time actually to do work. Now, we’re much more intentional about when we need to meet and why.

We’re able to be that intentional partially because we use WorkBoard. And because we’ve put an expectation in place that folks who own KRs will update them once a week, so we don’t have to spend a whole lot of time in status update meetings. With WorkBoard, we can have somebody sitting in Malaysia submitting their update, and then somebody in New York is able to access and process that update on their own time and fully assess what’s going on.

There’s such a benefit in taking time at a time that works for you, where you’re clear-headed — you can reflect on what’s working well, what’s not working well, and really spend that time to step away from the grind and then share all that with the broader team. And that’s not always going to happen in real life because people have different preferences and are in different headspaces and in different time zones. WorkBoard has been a great tool to change that behavior and also recalibrate in a way that works as a distributed organization.

WorkBoard has really helped us on our journey to reset how we work as opposed to just trying to plug and play the traditional office playbook into a virtual environment — and a big part of that help has been asynchronous communication.

Did you find people’s initial perception shift to enthusiasm as they saw benefits?

Yeah. Over time we started to track the percentage of achievement toward our goals, and we started to set some parameters around the thresholds that we considered healthy and unhealthy. And I think one of the most motivating things is to see how much better we got quarter-over-quarter at achieving results and setting the right goals. And so we set the intention from the very beginning and did an orientation when we first rolled out the methodology to get everybody on the same page — here are the principles, and here’s what to expect over the next few quarters. And a lot of what I learned from other folks who had implemented OKRs is that it takes a few quarters to really build that muscle as a team. Setting that intention was helpful because it reminded people to keep things in the perspective that this is about the learning — this is something deeper than just what you will accomplish in Q1 because we’re playing the long game. We want to be the highest performing team in Q1 of the following year, but it is going to require us to learn every quarter as we go.

And there was gradual improvement quarter-over-quarter. We kept asking the team about how much clarity everyone had on their goals and how clear our strategic priorities were, and that clarity went up from 39% in the first quarter to 64% in the second quarter — and then, in the third quarter, we got to a hundred percent. We had an HR business partner who’s been an advisor and worked in so many different organizations over the past 30 years come out of that all hands and say, “I cannot believe you guys got a hundred percent. I’ve never worked at a company where people actually felt clear.” And the fact that we were able to get the entire team to report that level of clarity really stood out to her. That helped us feel that we were building this muscle together and were making progress!

Narrowing in on how we even define our strategy has been liberating.

How has WorkBoard changed the way you lead the organization?

As a leader, it has given me, and therefore the team, a way to understand and decide on what matters most. We now have a process we can go through that has parameters that allow everyone to think about what matters now — what’s going on in the world, what’s going on with our customers, our team — and what are the priorities? So I think narrowing in on how we even define our strategy has been liberating.

And then from there, bringing WorkBoard into one-on-ones and team meetings lets us know what to celebrate and where the roadblocks are. I think it’s incredibly empowering. And I’ve really enjoyed seeing people use it as a mechanism for themselves to understand how the requests they get assigned actually ladder up to an OKR.

As a manager, to have people come and say, “This is not attainable. I’m working too hard. I’m working too much.” is great because we can revisit the OKR and use it as a mechanism throughout the quarter. Not just for executing, but also for revisiting what matters and giving ourselves — especially in times of crisis and a lot of change — permission to have a more fluid relationship and say, “We thought this was a priority two weeks ago, but it’s not now, because something else came up. How do we shuffle?” Especially in these uncertain times, I’m finding our team leaning into OKRs on an even deeper level to help us recalibrate and stay aligned.

We have a practice where the teams submit their updates, and then once a week, I send out a progress report that summarizes the key updates for all of the organizational OKRs. So, people have that hitting their inbox once a week, and then that often becomes a topic for discussion — somebody from one team can say, “Can you expand on that? Can we talk about this? I didn’t know that was going on.” So they have that shared context. And then some teams actually open up WorkBoard and live in it in real-time or use it to calibrate how they’re performing. I would say most of the teams are probably doing that asynchronously, and then they’re coming into their meetings with agenda items based on what they’ve already learned on their own.

Ultimately, WorkBoard has changed more than just how I lead, it has also changed the way that people lead themselves.

Especially in these uncertain times, I’m finding our team leaning into OKRs on an even deeper level to help us recalibrate and stay aligned.

How has Workboard helped the organization be more resilient?

What we’re all experiencing is so disorienting. It’s incredibly disorienting. There’s so much uncertainty out there, and there’s so much that you can’t control. In times like these, it really helps to co-construct a direction and try to figure out how to make sense of things after the wave settles and we overcome the initial period of being hit by it and trying to understand how to react. I think it’s extremely stressful when we focus on what we can’t control. And there’s so much that we can’t control because what’s happening out there is so much bigger than any of us or any team or organization.

In all that, the things you can control are your habits, practices, values, behaviors, and norms. And so I think coming back to the strategy and figuring out how we’re shaping it — now we have something to come back to, how is it evolving? How do we want to use that as a way that orients and aligns us? For a lot of people who are balancing a whole lot — we have people who are parents or have parents, and people who are dealing with health issues or financial issues at home — it’s incredibly clarifying to be able to say, “This is the thing that really matters. Drop everything else.”

What about Workboard has been essential to you over the past year?

Making our strategy more tangible and connecting it to the day-to-day. Where you start to see a lot of the power from WorkBoard is in the behavior change. The tool that we were using before didn’t really drive the behavior of knowing what truly matters. — what’s going on right now and the ability to do something about it. With WorkBoard, I can ping people for updates or comment and check-in and say, “Can you expand on that?” Or, “Hey, let’s celebrate this; this is awesome.”

We have a few teams using it as a project management tool, including our customer success team, which is distributed across three different time zones, making it challenging for them to meet in real-time. Their manager is using WorkBoard to manage all of their workloads across multiple workstreams, And I think their experience is probably the closest to the ideal WorkBoard experience where they’re connected on what they’re doing day-to-day and how that’s driving results.

I’m excited to take WorkBoard to the next level and have visibility on data well beyond the platform. I’m excited to connect WorkBoard with our BI tool, Salesforce, Zendesk, and more to get a clear picture of how we’re performing as a business across all of these different KPIs and then connect them, depending on what we want to impact each quarter. I think it could be really powerful to have all of that data centralized. We’re not quite there yet, but I found WorkBoard’s ability to integrate and centralize data very appealing — and I couldn’t find that ability in other platforms.

What three words best describe WorkBoard’s impact?

The first one is clarifying. The second one is empowering, which is really close to our heart because that’s literally the first word in our mission statement, and we’re constantly thinking, how do we empower people? So WorkBoard helps us live and breathe our mission internally for our employees. And the third word would be liberating — I think it’s extremely liberating to experience our strategy and action in the day-to-day.

I love the Heatmap because it’s tough to manage and understand how we’re all doing. In the first few quarters, I tended to err on the side of the overall organizational OKRs.

What’s your favorite Workboard feature?

The Heatmap. I love the Heatmap because it’s tough to manage and understand how we’re all doing. In the first few quarters, I tended to err on the side of the overall organizational OKRs. And what we started to find is that we didn’t see the gaps quickly enough — we were finishing the quarter and realizing we dropped the ball on an organizational OKR. We started to realize that we couldn’t diagnose which of the three teams that laddered into the OKR was actually contributing because we didn’t know where the roadblock was.

The Heatmap is helping us become more proactive. We still have a long way to go, but I love the feature because it’s so simple and straightforward — it helps you start to understand where you should focus your attention.

And people are competitive. They don’t want to be the red team. There’s a lot of pride. We had a team this past quarter that had been consistently overreaching and setting best — but not actually possible — goals. They were just aiming for way too much. But then just this past quarter, they did amazing. Across the board, they achieved 90% of what they set out to achieve because they did a better job of calibrating. And there was so much pride and a sense of accomplishment — they finally “did it.” Because we want to see that green and keep it going. There’s such a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment that comes from that.

You’ve mentioned celebrating a few times. Tell me a little bit more about that. How do you celebrate?

I think this is such an important thing to keep in mind because most of us tend to have a negative bias. And we tend to over-rotate on where the gaps are, where the failures are, where the shortcomings are, at both the individual and team level. There’s so much power in recognizing what is working and what we want to celebrate and do it in a genuine, meaningful way. And that comes in a whole spectrum of forms, all the way from, “Hey, I noticed you got that that thing through the finish line,” to a triumphant recognition of what a team accomplished even with all the obstacles that they faced. It’s so easy to get caught in the red and forget to acknowledge the hard work that people are doing. But I think that a celebration can do so much to inspire and motivate people when they see that, this is paying off, and I’m being recognized and being seen and noticed.

I love the badges in WorkBoard, and that you can give people badges and can add comments. I think things like that can go a long way.

You need to start by making the goal to move fast and learn as much as you can. Give yourself permission to fall down and make mistakes.

What advice do you have for other leaders who are considering, or getting started with, OKRs?

Be patient. You need to play the long game, and you need to look at OKRs as a journey and not a destination — because you’re never going to get there. You need to start by making the goal to move fast and learn as much as you can. Give yourself permission to fall down, make mistakes, and communicate all of that with your team and engage them in the process, so they feel like you’re learning and evolving together. The value in your first quarter OKRs is that — beyond the short-term achievements — you’re building a muscle. You’re resetting how people work, or creating a transformation in how they work together, which I find really profound and meaningful, and full of so much potential. And often, I think the tendency is to overlook the learning or focus on the “finish.”

If you give yourself a few quarters and use patience even as you’re moving quickly, I think it pays off. And then along those lines, I think if you can measure that progress, and collect the objective data on performance across the board at the start of the journey and along the journey — as well as the subjective data from the team of how things are feeling, how clear the goals are, and what they would do better or are most proud of — you can understand and improve overall performance.

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About Mike Giordani
Mike Giordani built customer success at Lingo Live from the ground up. He has partnered with — and had the privilege of learning from — HR leaders at some of the world’s most forward-thinking organizations.

Mike’s current focus has shifted to operations, strategy, and HR to empower the Lingo Live team to do their best work and position the organization for scalability and growth. He’s passionate about all things people and is on a mission to create more human-centric workplaces.

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